17 quirks of dating in Korea [pt. I]
This article is only partially based on personal experience given that I’ve only scratched the surface of romance in this country and that I’m not Korean. Another important note is that while I have dated a few Korean men, my experience as a Westerner is very different from that of a Korean woman. This is because, in a romantic scenario, the way a Korean treats and acts around a Korean individual isn’t necessarily the same he does so with a non-Korean person. Dating in Korea is quite nuanced! These observations are more from an outsider’s perspective with a little help from Korean friends. I talked with several young Koreans (straight men and women) in their 20s about their dating experiences. Here are 17 quirks about modern romance in SoKo:
1 - Blind dates reign supreme. Koreans probably don’t have a lot of #meetcute instances. You know, casually running into your future boo at the grocery store or a while browsing at a book shop. (Are these even realistic scenarios in the US? Have I been deluded into believing this sh#t?!) The preferred method to meet another single with serious dating potential—someone to call bf or gf—is to go on a blind date. Usually, friends, family and even coworkers set you up with a potential bae.
2 - What about online dating? While Koreans do use dating apps like tinder, I’m told this is mostly to meet foreigners. The guys I’ve gone on tinder dates with usually lived abroad and knew that this is a popular way of meeting singles in the West. Koreans aren’t very comfortable meeting a serious romantic prospect at a bar because there is stigma surrounding the notion of finding your future husband or wife while you were out drinking. Meeting people online is met with even more apprehension. The horror of telling the parentals you met ‘Mr. Right’ on tinder! If couples do meet online, they'll usually say they met IRL.
3 - “Do you want to eat ramen then go?” This is code for “Let’s watch Netflix and chill?” The sexual connotation apparently stems from a 2001 movie (봄날은 간다) in which the female lead character uses the line to invite over her romantic interest. Apparently the phrase is used more often in couples as a cute joke rather than with a person you're courting and hoping to get lucky with.
4 - Love motels abound. They are everywhere in Korea. This is because the majority of unmarried Koreans live with their parents, so when it comes time to consummating a courtship, they don’t have the luxury of saying “let’s go over to my place for Netflix and chill.” They gotta go to the motel, which often have (wacky) theme rooms such as Hello Kitty, Hip-Hop, you get the idea.
5 - DVD rooms are a thing, too. Technically speaking, DVD rooms are DVD rental stores with personal viewing rooms. It’s like getting a mini theater to enjoy movies with friends. However, plenty of Korean university students can’t afford love motels and end up taking advantage of the privacy afforded by DVD rooms. Ya'kno what I mean?
6 - PDA is kept to a minimum. Surely holding hands and hugging is common. But you’ll rarely see kissing in public. For the most part, Koreans like to keep their public displays of affection PG.
7 - Curfews: my house, my rules! These pesky freedom limitations endured by most teenagers are still relatively common in Korea for those that live under the roof of mom and dad. Even if they’re full-fledged adults. From what I’ve been told, curfews are more applicable to women than men. Ugh. So if your Korean honey needs to rush home by 11pm, you know why.
8 - Coupledom obsession. From the matchy matchy couple outfits telling the world “you’re mine,” to the dizzying amount of ‘anniversaries’ (Korean couples typically celebrate being together every 100 days!), Korea encourages its citizens to always aim to be in a relationship. Unfortunately, singledom is seen as somewhat of a tragedy and a transitory stage to find ‘the one.’ If single, people may incessantly inquire about the reasons and what plan of action is currently in place to get out of this situation (LOL).
9 - Keep in touch. ALWAYS. If romancing a Korean, be prepared to have lots of communication. In contrast to what we deem reasonable in the West (this obviously varies from person to person), generally speaking, Koreans like to stay in touch way more often. From good mornings to good nights and the various How’s your day? / How was lunch? / Did you get home safely? peppered in between, you better be glued to your phone! The constant stream of sometimes redundant text messages apparently shows that you care. Even when there is no substance to the conversation at hand. The constant attention is kinda nice in the beginning but then it becomes increasingly hard and tedious to sustain.
10 - Chivalry is very much alive. Korean men are generally more attentive and invested than my experience with Western dudes. Maybe it’s because expectations from Korean women are sky-high. Or perhaps because guys mostly date seriously. Korean men seem to be trained in the art and responsibility of being a good boyfriend. From carrying your purse, to giving them your coat if you’re cold, being chivalrous and attentive seems to be ingrained in them.
Next week, we talk jealousy, the dynamics of Koreans dating Western men vs. Western women, and marriage. Stay tuned!